Tag Archives: advice


Mountains of Malaga

Last year I stayed in a large villa in Spain with fifteen of my friends from school. Our villa was about an hour’s drive out of Malaga, and was pretty much in the middle of nowhere. To this day all I know is Continue reading


London Tube Etiquette: My First Experience of the London Underground

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series A Semester Abroad in London

Participating in a study abroad program and living in London was the highlight of my Bachelor of Arts degree. This series is a record of my adventure to London and Europe with my young family and my sister as the nanny.

Travelling on the London Tube can be daunting for the uninitiated and involves knowledge and skill beyond just ‘how to top up your Oyster card’. It is a skill that includes certain knowledge of Tube etiquette: always stand to the right on the escalators, don’t make eye contact, Continue reading


Welcome to Jordan: Everyday Realities

This entry is part 1 of 1 in the series Welcome to Jordan

I had heard a lot of criticism about Amman as a city — that it is boring with nothing to do or see. In no way is this true — the city has plenty to offer! It may just take some effort to discover.

I moved here as part of my BA Arabic degree, which meant spending the entire academic year in a country I had never visited before. Having never travelled in the Middle East, this was rather an exciting prospect and, having come not as a tourist, but to stay (if only for a limited period), I wanted to know what the city was like to live in.

Having spent three months here so far, I have built up a list of observations that I found surprising, coming from a European background, which any visitor will notice sooner or later.

Blue skies and all day long sunshine over Amman's busy and often dangerous roads. Photo © Annabella Ahola

Blue skies and all day long sunshine over Amman’s busy and often dangerous roads. Photo © Annabella Ahola


While the assumption is that it is always hot in the Middle East, this is not entirely true. Admittedly, the heat in late August can be overwhelming — over 30 degrees and sunny all day long. But you get used to it very fast: soon 30 degrees feels like nothing. It gets to the point where you almost forget what a cloudy day looks like.

Come mid-September, everyone keenly awaits for the first signs of rain. “Look, clouds!” someone may shout, and everyone goes over to the window in eager anticipation. Jordan is 90% desert, and the climate is respectively a desert climate — scorching hot in the day, cold at night. Houses have little to no heating, and in November a common complaint is how cold it is — colder inside than out.

Amman is hilly, and there is a constant breeze — refreshing in summer, but in late Autumn, 18 degrees makes you think “winter is coming” (summer in Northern European terms!) There is a promise of ice and maybe even snow by January: sounds slippery considering the steepness of these hills.

City layout

The layout of the city (due to its fast growth) makes it very difficult to walk anywhere. Granted, there are a few areas where the pavements are decent enough to walk on, but for the most part, excursions on foot often mean dealing with cracked pavements that can be up to two feet high, and honking horns. Venturing from one area to another, the roads resemble motorways because of the amount of cars and lanes, and pedestrian crossings are virtually non-existent. Be prepared to walk a mile to encounter a bridge, or dare to run across the road fearing for your life.

Amidst the new builds in hilly Amman stands the remains of a Roman Amphitheater picture © Annabella Ahola

Amidst the new builds in hilly Amman stands the remains of a Roman Amphitheater. Photo © Annabella Ahola


The above point means that taking a taxi anywhere is a common means of transport. Buses exist, but they are rare, and no one really seems to know their timetables and routes. The joke is that the bus is so fast you cannot even see it. There are also white servees taxis: a kind of shared minibus. With no designated route, they leave as they fill up with customers. Outside, men shout destinations at passersby, and you get on a bus heading in your direction, telling the driver where to drop you off. Sounds daunting, but it is very cheap — 35 qirsh* for a ride. A taxi across the city will cost you about 2 dinars. That said, taxis might not be easy to get, depending on how busy it is. A driver may even refuse to take you, and foreigners run the risk of getting ripped off. Hence one must always check to make sure the meter is running, or to agree on a price before boarding.


Despite the preconceptions one might have about the Middle East, Jordan is not a cheap country to live in. The dinar is stronger than the pound, and the prices in supermarkets and Western-style malls are similar to those found in Europe. (This is why it is better to leave the malls for a special treat, and stick to local shops and produce.) Prices can vary significantly depending on where you are. A Turkish coffee from a corner shop could cost 35 qirsh, an American-style filter coffee, 2 dinars. In a nicer mall café, this could be 4 dinars including tax and service charge. That said, not all prices are fixed. A good rule of thumb is that if there is no price tag, the price is negotiable. This is particularly true for the souks, such as those in the older part of town. Traditionally, for Arabs, haggling is an art form, and agreeing to the price right away is somewhat disrespectful and makes you look like a fool.


When it comes to the kind of produce on offer, Amman has a lot of variety. In the bigger malls and supermarkets, one finds a lot of the same brands and products as in Europe. No big culture shock there. However, when it comes to more specialised things, such as organic produce, or foods aimed at vegans or people with allergies (tofu, gluten free…) the struggle is real. If these are available, they are rare and difficult to find.

The Taj Mall in Amman, where the likes of Miss Selfridge and Burberry can be found. © Annabella Ahola

The Taj Mall in Amman, where the likes of Miss Selfridge and Burberry can be found. Picture © Annabella Ahola

“If you have specialist needs — like a particular brand of shampoo you like — bring a supply of it with you,” we were advised by our school. But with limited suitcase space, I think I am OK with my hair adjusting to something new, for now.

[*a qirsh is one hundredth of a dinar. 1 dinar is equivalent to £1.11 at time of publication].

Featured image © Anton Mukhametchin


Leipzig: the Next Berlin?

This entry is part 7 of 7 in the series Poor But Sexy: A Student Guide to Germany

Compared to other Western capitals such as London, New York and Paris, which are pretty much as synonymous with astronomical rents, social cleansing and insta-hipster blandness as they are with their respective iconic landmarks, Berlin still manages to retain its essence as a city where normal people can actually live. This is largely due to the unusual and genuinely cutting-edge lifestyle it offers, which deserves to be preserved at all costs.

However, change is in the air. With Berlin rapidly becoming Continue reading

Matthias Ripp

Drag, Disco and Dives: A Guide to Berlin’s Best (and Cheapest) Bars

This entry is part 6 of 7 in the series Poor But Sexy: A Student Guide to Germany

Given that one of Berlin’s main draws as a destination for both tourists and residents is its relaxed pace of life and almost unfathomable capacity for fun, it should come as no surprise that the city is home to some of the best watering holes in the world.

However, despite being the capital of Germany — the land famous for cosy cellars serving up alarmingly large steins of Bavarian beer alongside gut-busting portions of sausage — you’ll find none of that in this city (except for overpriced tourist traps designed to trick the uninitiated travellers searching for an ‘authentic’ German experience).

Ethan Prater

Beer, sausages, mustard…sure, these are all good, but there’s a lot more to Germany. Berlin doesn’t concern itself with you giving you stereotypes. (Photographer: Ethan Prater; Flickr)

Alternatively, Berlin’s unique history and position as a subcultural citadel and hipster paradise mean that there is an endless variety of cool, exciting and cheap places to drink the night (and following day) away, whatever your tastes/budget/identity. With that in mind, please enjoy this highly subjective guide to the best bars the city has to offer.

Barbie Deinhoff’s (Kreuzberg

It seems logical to start with my all-time favourite bar in the world, a place that I have frequented so much in the past year that the fact the staff haven’t begun charging me rent is a testament to their sweet nature. I could easily fill several articles’ worth of space simply composing a long overdue love letter to the place where I’ve had some of the most memorable (and forgettable) nights of my life, but I’ll leave it at “I love this bar”. A tiny establishment on the always-buzzing Schlesisches Str., I was first drawn in by the warm glow of the pink neon lights which never switch off, as well as the faint sound of electronica and disco from the excellently-curated playlist (everyone pays €1 to the DJ). Inside you’ll find a cosy space crammed with overstuffed sofas and garden furniture, the walls adorned with cute and sexy works from local artists which are often available for purchase, as well as an eclectic crowd of both tourists and locals.


Schlesisches Strasse is in the midst of the liveliest areas of Berlin in the old East Side. (Photographer: quapan; Flickr)

Whilst it would be difficult to describe the vibe of this legendary gay bar, a patron once aptly summarised it to me as “a working man’s pub for drag queens on their down time”, and I think that does it justice. Whilst the music and crowd are good reasons to come, the real reason to stay is the drinks prices. With cocktails costing €5 and a large glass of wine costing €3 on a normal night, if you show up for their weekly “Tu-Tu Tuesday” then all drinks are two for one, meaning that you can (and will) get hammered for under €10. It is therefore (I hope) entirely understandable that whenever my friends want to hang out on a Tuesday evening, they know to just head down to Barbie’s and they’ll be sure to see me in my usual spot.

Bei Schlawinchen (Neukölln)  Continue reading